Forecasters expect the season’s first snowfall to blanket parts of the Northeast and New England this weekend, potentially leaving a wintry coating on some towns in New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire by the morning of Sunday, October 23. The snow is expected to cover areas that are just past the peak of fall foliage, potentially inconveniencing tourists in the area but likely making for some gorgeous scenery once the skies clear out.

Ironically, the origin of the impending snowfall is the record-breaking heat wave earlier this week—a great symbol of how wacky fall weather can be. Folks who live east of the Rocky Mountains know that summer doesn’t give up easily. Lurking behind the initial cooldown of autumn is often an “Indian summer,” a term given to an unusually toasty heat wave that builds up for a couple of days during this seemingly odd time of the year. Temperatures across huge swaths of the United States earlier this week climbed to levels you’d normally see in August; some towns in the southern Plains cracked 100°F, and daily high temperature records fell as far north as New York City.

Fall heat waves don’t last very long, though, and this one was no exception. The same low-pressure system that dragged cool, Canadian air back down over the U.S. and pushed away the heat will also be responsible for the snow that will likely fall this weekend. Weather models consistently show a strong, wavy jet stream snaking its way across North America, creating strong lift that will allow the low-pressure system to gather strength as it marches toward New England.

The Weather Prediction Center’s snowfall forecast through 7:00 AM Sunday, October 23, 2016. Image credit: Dennis Mersereau

 
The storm this weekend will sort of resemble a nor’easter that we’re so used to seeing during the winter months. The system will bring gusty winds and widespread precipitation across the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast states over the next couple of days, giving areas in an increasingly severe drought several inches of much-needed rain.

Once that storm reaches New England, however, the winds spiraling around the low-pressure center will allow subfreezing air to cross the Canadian border into New York, Vermont, and New Hampshire. This intrusion of chilly air will force the rain to slowly change over to snow on Saturday night and Sunday. The Weather Prediction Center expects more than half a foot of snow across higher elevations of northern New York, with smaller totals around lower elevations nearby.

A few inches of snow is hardly an issue in this part of the country, even this early in the season. No matter how winter-minded folks are, though, the first snow of the season can be a challenge for drivers trying to navigate potentially slippery roads. Many trees still have their leaves—and this will be a wet snow—so weaker tree branches and limbs could fall if they can’t handle the additional weight of the snow. This could pose a danger to vehicles, homes, and power lines.

Even though it feels like it’s too early to start talking about snow, the second-to-last week of October is, on average, when New York’s Adirondacks record their first measurable snowfall of the year. The normal date for the year’s first snow around Lake Placid and Saranac Lake is October 21. The average first snowfall doesn’t occur until the beginning of November in northern Vermont and New Hampshire, but in years past they’ve had measurable snow as early as the beginning of October. If this snowfall pans out as expected, it will be nothing unprecedented or even all that bothersome to local residents. Plus, the white snow contrasted against the colorful trees will make the storm noteworthy for its beauty.